How to build adequate fodder reserves on your farm

Silage contractors in action.
Silage contractors in action.
Catherine Hurley

Catherine Hurley

This year has been a very challenging year regarding grass production and it was noted the recetn National Dairy Conference that it is likely that grassland production will be reduced by 3.5 – 4.0t DM/ha on average across farms, according to Teagasc Researcher Joe Patton.

While some of this production has been already replaced in the diet of the herd with both concentrate and grass silage, some farms face the winter with insufficient feed supply, he said.

He noted that a fodder survey completed at the end of October showed that one third of farmers nationally are still short 15pc of fodder.

“This is equivalent to a deficit of three weeks feeding, based on a 145-day winter, this should not be ignored,” he said.

Building a fodder reserve

The challenge facing dairy farmers is to ensure that feed supplies are increased on farms for future winter and drought periods, he said. Building a high feed reserve will take several years – however there are a number of key principles to bear in mind, he said. These include;

 • Stock the farm to the grass growth capacity of the farm, do not build a farm system based around imported feed

• Only over winter priority stock on the farm, if retaining cull cows or if selling replacement heifers make sure the winter feed is available

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• Ensure that the fertiliser regime is reflective of what is required for first and second cut silage crops – know the amounts and cost of this input

• Close sufficient silage for first cut – stock farm at 4.0-4.5 cows/ha (grass demand – 75-80 kg DM/ ha) during the first cut silage period

• Make sure the out blocks of the farm are preforming adequately, otherwise the home block is under too much pressure

• As surplus grass appears during the season it should be harvested for bale silage • Ensure the silage in the yard is analysed and utilised properly

• If restricting silage to the herd, ensure the feed space per cow is adequate

• If possible try to create a minimum feed reserve of 2 bales of silage per LU (400kg DM silage/per cow).

Contract cropping

Another viable option for farmers is contract cropping is an arrangement where a tillage farmer enters into a contract with a dairy farmer to grow a forage crop, he said.

Tillage farmers have the expertise and the machinery to grow high quality forage crops, he explained.

“This type of arrangement enables dairy farmers to focus on their grass-based systems while having the benefits of a high-quality forage crop to bridge the fodder gap,” he explained, noting that measurement of yields and quality are important for successful long-term arrangements.

The main forage options according to Joe are;

• Maize - site key to quality

• Fodder beet - high energy but handling and feed-out limit usage.

• Wholecrop cereals – high yielding crops such as winter wheat are essential for quality

• Brassica – ideally have to be grazed in-situ, infrastructure is essential.

A contract forage cropping agreement is essential to protect both the grower and the purchaser.

The key elements of the forage cropping agreement are;

 • Agreed tonnage / area.

• Payment terms.

• Crop husbandry – organic manures, variety etc.

• Delivery date

• Nominated facilitator for dispute resolution

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